YWCA Hamilton advocates for Reproductive Care for unhoused community members at the 10th Women’s Health Days with Greater Hamilton Health Network

Quick escape link leading to Weather Network websiteQuick Escape live art piece from community reproductive care call to action

Last week, February 7th and 8th, Greater Hamilton Health Network (GHHN) held its tenth Women’s Health Days at YWCA Hamilton’s MacNab St. location. Women’s Health Days have been instrumental events in providing free, accessible, essential health and wellness services to women and gender-diverse folks experiencing homelessness in our community.

Women’s Health Days are focused on building meaningful connections with those who are unhoused to prioritize proactive, preventative health care. Women’s Health Days offer a range of services, including access to medical advice and treatment, food, and giveaways with the ultimate goal of building an integrated, responsive, and equitable healthcare system.

One of the key components of Women’s Health Days is offering access to reproductive care, including pelvic exams, contraception, and midwifery referrals – services we recognize as especially important as we mark Sexual Health Week from February 12 to 16.

Megan Lynch, manager of GHHN, shared, “GHHN recognizes the importance of access to primary care and reproductive health services…these low-barrier events allow individuals to talk one-on-one with staff and tell us what they need and where and how they want to receive it.”

The purpose of Women’s Health Days, and the reproductive care provided by YWCA Hamilton, is to meet people where they are at and provide access to care without stigma. Reproductive care is essential healthcare that everyone, especially those experiencing homelessness, should have access to without barriers. This includes services such as abortions, contraceptives, sexual health testing, and pregnancy/miscarriage support.

Megan also noted that while each event sees an influx of new service users, there is a steady presence of returning attendees, comprising about five to ten percent of those accessing services.

In 2021, along with community partners, YWCA Hamilton convened a Community Call to Action focusing on the intersection of reproductive health care, pregnancy, and homelessness. We have also dedicated three beds within our Transitional Living Program to people experiencing homelessness who are pregnant, who have had or who are seeking an abortion, who have experienced pregnancy loss, or who need emergency reproductive care. This call to action has been renewed annually to keep attention on this issue even after excitement and interest wanes.

Mary Vaccaro, PhD Candidate at the McMaster University School of Social Work and YWCA Hamilton’s reproductive care lead, said “At YWCA Hamilton, we have been leading local and national advocacy on the right to accessible abortion care.

“We have dedicated supports for people who are experiencing homelessness and wish to access abortion – including space for people to rest and recover and an emergency reproductive care worker to support them in navigating access. There is a need for reproductive care, choice and rights to be accessible to all women and gender-diverse people.”

Mary adds, “We have received 64 referrals to our emergency reproductive care bed program since starting this program 17 months ago. There is a tremendous need in the community for enhanced supports for people experiencing pregnancy and homelessness”. There is an urgent need for more accessible and permanent healthcare services for women and gender-diverse folks facing homelessness.

Our call to action and community efforts incorporate prioritizing investments in essential services. Funding is critical to ensure that pregnant individuals and those who have had abortions, stillbirths, or miscarriages are not turned away from accessing emergency shelter beds. Hamilton needs permanent housing for pregnant individuals through existing Housing First programs and housing waitlists. And our community needs a drop-in, one-stop shop for reproductive health care and support, streamlining access to essential services. YWCA Hamilton is uniquely positioned to provide these supports and needs investments to ensure reproductive health care is available to available without barriers for women and gender diverse people.

Our overarching goal is to address the systemic lack of appropriate housing and community-based support during pregnancy and the postpartum period, particularly among homeless individuals who face heightened risks of gender-based violence, substance abuse, and child welfare intervention.

To learn more about Sexual Health Week and YWCA Hamilton’s work on abortion access in Canada, visit https://www.actioncanadashr.org/abortionUPR.


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